Republicans are flexing their fundraising muscles in their pursuit of two of Tarrant County’s highest-elected offices.
Nearly $1.3 million has been raised combined by the candidates vying to be the next district attorney. County judge candidates have brought in more than $668,000, according to campaign finance reports covering July 1 to Dec. 31.
Almost the entirety of the money raised in both races is on the GOP side: 97% of county judge contributions and almost 94% of district attorney donations are to Republican candidates.
Thomas Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, wasn’t surprised Republicans are dominating the county’s pair of highest-profile races. The political headwinds are blowing in their party’s direction this year and the smart money will follow the most viable candidates, he said.
“Likely party primary winners generally attract the bulk of money,” Marshall said.
Democrats have made some progress in winning Tarrant County. However, Sherri Heinzman, a Republican campaign consultant based in Mansfield, said her party still has an edge despite those gains.
“The support is there for Republicans,” she said. “My only question is who is supporting them? We’ve had dark and outside money come in, which never makes me happy because I don’t think anybody in Idaho gives a flying rip about what happens in Tarrant County.”
The comparatively low fundraising numbers from Democrats aren’t a surprise to Heather Buen, who has worked on Democratic campaigns in North Texas.
“Even without looking at the numbers, I know that Democrats are likely behind when it comes to fundraising versus our Republican counterparts,” Buen said.
Krause, Sorrells fundraising powerhouses
Republicans fundraising prowess extends to the race for district attorney. District attorney candidates outraised the county judge candidates. The bulk of the $1.3 million raised can be attributed to two Republican candidates.
State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, is ahead of his two primary challengers in fundraising with $545,900.
Over half of Krause’s contributions came from one person: state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville. Middleton donated $300,000 to his fellow legislator. Krause and Middleton are part of the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus in the state House.
Krause has a leg up in fundraising because he switched which position for which he was running. Initially, Krause ran for attorney general, but backed out around Thanksgiving to run for district attorney.
The Sorrells’ campaign average donation was just over $4,500, more than double Krause’s average donation.
Krause and Sorrells have respectable hauls, Marshall said. Each dollar will go a long way in reaching potential voters in this county of 2.1 million people.
“You can certainly run a respectable campaign and a Republican primary on those kinds of dollars,” Marshall said, adding Krause and Sorrells have good financial connections.
Krause and Sorrells both outraised their primary opponent Mollee Westfall, former judge of the 371st Criminal District Court. Westfall raised $137,000. Westfall had the smallest average donation among Republicans, a third of Sorrells’ average donation.
Still, Westfall and her fellow Republicans individually raised more than any of the three Democrats in the race.
Tiffany Burks is the former deputy chief of the Tarrant County district attorney’s criminal division. Burks led her primary opponents, with a haul of $40,595.
The only Democrat to come close to Burks’ contributions was Albert John Roberts, a former prosecutor for Tarrant and Dallas counties. Roberts raised $34,663. Buen said the key to Democratic fundraising in the DA race is the candidate’s network. Burks recently left the district attorney’s office and those connections will likely translate to donations.
“Her pool of potential donors is a lot larger than say Roberts’ campaign,” Buen said.
The Roberts and Burks campaigns both brought in a similar average donation. Burks’ average was almost $618, while Roberts’ average was $435.
The third Democrat in the race, Lawrence Meyers, raised $1,250 and spent the same amount to cover his fees to file as a district attorney candidate. Meyers is a former judge who served on the statewide Court of Criminal Appeals.
Marshall has a hunch for why a large fundraising gap has emerged between Republicans and Democrats jockeying to be the next district attorney.
“What the fundraising numbers say is nobody thinks a Democrat is going to win in November,” the political scientist said. “Of course, that could change. Some unknown event could happen, but Tarrant County is generally a Republican county.”
‘Money often follows’
In the Tarrant County judge race, Betsy Price and Tim O’Hare are cementing their frontrunner statuses. Price, the former Fort Worth mayor, was the top fundraiser, but O’Hare, the former county GOP chairman, wasn’t too far behind.
Price raised $334,872 to O’Hare’s $309,050, according to their campaign finance reports. And both candidates have plenty of cash on hand. Price has $359,862 in her war chest, while O’Hare has $251,692.
Price and O’Hare also had similar average contributions, falling around $800. O’Hare’s average contribution was slightly higher than Price’s by about $70.
“This is a highly contested race where both of them have some primary strength,” Marshall said. “They’re clearly the frontrunners. Money often follows perceived frontrunners. And we’re probably electing a county judge for eight to 12 years.”
Three other Republicans are in the county judge primary: Robert Trevor Buker, Kristin Collins and Byron Bradford. Buker is the only Republican among that trio that raised any money by the most recent filing deadline. He brought in $4,093, with an average contribution of about $120.
Collins’ campaign finance reports showed she did not raise a single contribution. Bradford’s reports were not filed.
The two Democrats vying for county judge raised nowhere near the hauls of Price and O’Hare. Deborah Peoples, the former Tarrant County Democratic Party chair, raised $13,943, beating former Arlington City Council member Marvin Sutton’s $6,085.
Sutton, though, has spent more than Peoples. He spent $21,531 during the past six months. For comparison, Peoples spent $1,250 — enough to cover her campaign filing fees to the Democratic Party. Peoples announced her campaign in early December.
Marshall considers both Democratic county judge candidates as having a long campaign trail ahead of them regardless of who wins in March. However, the political scientist said some Democratic donors likely are waiting until after the primaries to begin to donate.
Buen believes that former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of O’Hare could encourage donations to the Peoples campaign if he wins the GOP primary.
“Deborah herself gets name recognition; she can raise a lot of money,” Buen said. “We should be able to fund raise a lot basically, because there’s a lot of people that are anti-Trump.”
In 2020, President Joe Biden narrowly carried Tarrant County over Trump, winning 49.3% of the vote to the Republican’s 49.1%.
While outraising Sutton, Peoples also had the lowest average contribution of all the candidates. Her average contribution of $50 is a third of Sutton’s average donation.
The similar fundraising dollars between Price and O’Hare foreshadow a tight primary, Marshall said. Republican donors will face a choice as they decide which candidate to back into the final stretch of campaigning before the primaries, said Heinzman, the GOP campaign consultant.
“It’s like going hunting,” Heizman said. “You don’t get to choose what’s going to come your way. You just have to look at it and decide: Does that look like a decent thing that I can eat for lunch, or does it look sickly?”
While Republicans have the pick of the herd, Marshall predicts Democrats would have to make up a lot of ground ahead of the general election.
“It’s not the end of the fundraising reports, but certainly this looks like a long shot here for Democrats,” Marshall said.
The deadline for the next set of campaign finance reports is Jan. 31.
Disclosure: Betsy Price has been a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. Heather Buen is a member of the Report’s Reader Advisory Council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.